October 1, 2015

Take a Look Inside Biosphere 2

NEW! Coming October 13th!
By Mary Kay Carson 

I'm proud to announce my newest book! It's another installment in the Scientists in the Field series called Inside Biosphere 2. It's about the terrific Earth science research going on inside this unique three-acre enclosed facility. The jumpsuit-wearing Biospherians for whom the huge greenhouse was built are long gone. Today, the University of Arizona owns the large-scale laboratory and its rainforest, ocean, and savannah habitats. A bevy of scientists are conducting experiments in these biomes, studying the effects of drought, rising temperatures, and other environmental factors.

   The large area that was originally the indoor farm has undergone the most dramatic transformation. Under the three glass arches are three identical tennis-court-sized platforms filled with soil and positioned at a tilt. These are artificial hillsides packed with sensors that measure every drop of water as it moves through the soil as well as temperatures and gases exchanged. It's called LEO, the Landscape Evolution Observatory, and it's the largest earth science experiment in the world.

Landscape Evolution Observatory at Biosphere 2
   LEO is big science. Physics has particle colliders like CERN. Astronomy has the Hubble Space Telescope. Medicine the human genome project. Earth science now has Biosphere 2's LEO. It aims to answer questions like: How does rock become soil? How does water and carbon move through landscapes? These are important basic science questions, but their relevance is immediate. Every one of the seven billion people on Earth depend on soil and water for survival. As our planet changes and population grows, we'll need to adapt and change, too. LEO's discoveries will help us plan for the future and wisely manage the resources we share.
    You can check in on LEO at leo.b2science.org. Visitors to Biosphere 2 can also get a close up view, as well as touring the biomes and old living quarters of the Biospherians. It's an amazing place to visit if you're in southern Arizona. Meanwhile, here's a great activity to get students thinking about the link between climate and soil. It's from my book Exploring the Solar System: A History with 22 Activities. Enjoy!